Exercises in Imagination – Announcements – e-flux


Exercises in Imagination is a group exhibition showcasing the work of the seventeen artists and architects based in the United States and elected as National Academicians in the fall of 2022. 

Exercises in Imagination is a multivalent reading of imagination’s potential in American contemporary culture, reflecting diverse lived experiences within the United States. The works in the exhibition challenge accepted notions of US history, collectively envisioning realms that move between shared histories and speculative futures. A notable thread in the show is the variety of ways artists and architects harness memory and history to reshape both built and social environments, as well as the fantastical imaginings and abstractions utilized to envision a multiplicity of cultural outcomes. Experimentation as an act of survival, growth, and regeneration unites the Academicians in a collective urgency to address the problems that mark our current existence.

With a focus on the myriad potentials the artists and architects’ practices create, Exercises in Imagination frames a dialogue between art, architecture and emerging disciplines at the heart of the National Academy’s founding in 1825. The newly inducted class of celebrated artists and architects includes Laurie Anderson, Edgar Arceneaux, Radcliffe Bailey, Deborah Berke, Huma Bhabha, Tania Bruguera, J. Yolande Daniels, Leonardo Drew, Nicole Eisenman, Julie Eizenberg, Hank Koning, Rick Lowe, Jean Shin, Arthur Simms, Michael Van Valkenburgh, Dan Walsh, and Nari Ward. 

Artists Rick Lowe, Radcliffe Bailey, Nicole Eisenman, Nari Ward, and Huma Bhabha envision the horizon line of history and the future as fluid, blurring the divide between accepted interpretations of societal order and hegemonic structures. Similarly, visual artists Edgar Arceneaux, Jean Shin, and Arthur Simms work with abstract forms to communicate social orders, systems of oppression, and means of survival, whereas repetition and spirituality figure into the highly abstract works of Leonardo Drew and Dan Walsh. Architects in the exhibition reveal glimpses of their processes, from J. Yolande Daniels, whose maps of Los Angeles’ reveal data of the city’s racialized history of development, to a diagram conveying Hank Koning and Julie Eizenberg’s thought process as it relates to projects realized in Southern California. Works by New York-based architects Deborah Berke and Michael Van Valkenburgh respectively envision systems of the everyday and humanity’s coexistence with the natural world. By contrast, works by Tania Bruguera and Laurie Anderson are grounded in the performative, social, ephemeral, and relational, navigating terrain that is beyond art as we know it.

Members of the 2022 Class of Academicians emerged in their respective fields during the late 20th century, a transformational time when historically divided diasporic and immigrant communities converged, creating new cultural possibilities. Works of art and architecture in Exercises in Imagination are connected by an ethos of experimentation that is evident in both aesthetics and conceptual underpinnings. Powerful, topical themes and radical aesthetic propositions permeate the work shown, including reconsiderations of race in America. Binding the works on view is the idea that out of chaos we find order, the imaginary, and new possibilities.

Exercises in Imagination is organized by Sara Reisman, Chief Curator and Director of National Academician Affairs, Natalia Viera Salgado, Associate Curator, and Sophia Neitsch, NA Affairs Manager.

About The National Academy of Design
Founded in 1825, the National Academy of Design is one of the leading honorary societies for artists and architects in the United States. An advocate for the arts as a tool for education, the National Academy promotes art and architecture in America through public programming, exhibitions, grantmaking, fellowships, and research. The National Academy’s membership is made up of 450 artists and architects who have been elected by their peers in recognition of their extraordinary contributions to art and architecture in America; upon election, incoming National Academicians are invited to donate a representative sample of their work to the Academy’s collection, which today represents one of the most significant collections of American art and architecture ever assembled. For the past two centuries, the National Academy has celebrated the role of artists and architects in public life and served as a catalyst for cultural conversations that propel society forward.


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